24 January 2012

Once and For All: Peak, Peek, Pique

Homophones are a grammar pet peeve of mine. There/their/they're. Your/you're. Its/It's. But the one that really gets me is peak, peek, and pique. Why does it bug me so much? Recently speaking, it's because I've seen it not only in the social media interaction, but also the professional writing, of a PUBLISHED AUTHOR. Yes, an indie author - and indie in this case doesn't mean just self-pub, it means small independent (mostly digital) press, which I assume does have some sort of editing process?! Misusing one of these words in casual discourse is one thing. Letting it slip (more than once) in a published work is, in my opinion, unacceptable.

The other reason this particular set of homonyms irritates me is that for every person who goes "Ohhhhh, gotcha, thanks!" when the error is pointed out, there is usually one person who will attempt to justify the mistake by trying to equate the definition of the word they've misused with the intent behind the sentence. But they're still wrong. Let me tell you how and why.

I am far from a grammarian, and although I know plenty about proper word usage (most of the time - Robb Grindstaff has to remind me about farther/further every time!) my eyes have been known to glaze over at some of the more complicated discussions of syntax and such. I don't want YOUR eyes to glaze over here, but in order to finally put the peak/peek/pique thing to rest, we'll have to dig into transitive and intransitive verbs a little bit, in addition to the actual meanings of the words.

Transitive verbs

A transitive verb is one that takes a direct object.  She left the door open. Here, left is a transitive verb, because it takes the object the door. The action is being performed directly on the door. The sentence would be incomplete if there weren't an object to go with that verb.

Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object, and are complete without one. Intransitive verbs are (often, I'm not sure if they are always) a state of being. The action is not being performed directly to or on someone/something. She left at intermission. Here, left is an intransitive verb. There is no direct object.

If you aren't sure whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, try to reword the sentence in passive voice, using "by". If you can, it's transitive. If not, it's intransitive. The door was left open by her make sense. You can't rewrite the second sentence in the same way because it's an intransitive verb.

So what does this have to do with peak/peek/pique?

First of all, let's just throw out peek from this equation because we all know the verb to peek means to glance quickly. It is occasionally used instead of peak, but nobody has ever tried to use the different meanings of peek and peak to justify their misuse. It's mostly a spelling error. Though I hold you, dear readers, to a higher standard, so I really hope you're using that one correctly. ;-)

The big two offenders are peak and pique, which people seem to confuse not only in spelling, but meaning.

From Dictionary.com:


verb (used with object)
1. to affect with sharp irritation and resentment, especially by some wound to pride: She was greatly piqued when they refused her invitation.
2. to wound (the pride, vanity, etc.).
3. to excite (interest, curiosity, etc.): Her curiosity was piqued by the gossip.
4. to arouse an emotion or provoke to action: to pique someone to answer a challenge.
5. Archaic . to pride (oneself) (usually followed by on  or upon ). 
verb (used without object)
6. to arouse pique in someone: an action that piqued when it was meant to soothe.


verb (used without object)
14. to project in a peak.
15. to attain a peak of activity, development, popularity, etc.: The artist peaked in the 1950s.

verb (used with object)
16. Nautical . to raise the after end of (a yard, gaff, etc.) to or toward an angle above the horizontal.
From these definitions, you can see that the proper statement would be That short skirt and low-cut top piqued his interest. and NOT That short skirt and low-cut top peaked his interest.
The sentence clearly means that the provocative clothing aroused the man's interest. Further, you can look at the fact that if you used peak here, it would be a transitive verb, because it has the direct object of his interest. (His interest was piqued by the clothes.) But the only definition given of peak as a transitive verb (used with object) is a nautical reference. You can peak the gaff while sailing, which would mean you raised the after end above the horizontal. The other definitions are intransitive usages of peak.
While dictionary.com doesn't list peak as a transitive verb meaning "To bring to a maximum of development, value, or intensity" or "to cause to come to a peak", there are other sources that do. This is where you get people trying to justify the use of peak in sentences like the one above. 
They argue that the sexy clothing could have brought the man's interest to a maximum of intensity, or could have caused his interest to come to a peak, and so that sentence could be correct.
But it's not. It sounds ridiculous, and it looks ridiculous. As a reader, I would never assume a writer intended that meaning of peak, and as a writer, I would never construct a sentence that way. If that's truly the intent of the sentence why wouldn't one simply say The short skirt and low-cut top brought his interest to a peak. There's no grey area about meaning there. Although it's still a ridiculous sentence. If some skimpy clothing brings a character's interest to the highest point, I sure hope that character is a 12-year-old boy who gets big thrills from very little.

To be honest, I don't know why some dictionaries list peak as a transitive verb in anything other than the nautical usage. (Dictionary.com doesn't; Oxford doesn't; Merriam-Webster does, but doesn't specify anything about nautical usage; You Dictionary does; American Heritage does.) Perhaps it's an old usage that has fallen out of style? I'm not sure. But it's used so far and between that I couldn't find a single usage of it as a transitive verb after lots of Googling and discussion with word nerds on Facebook and Twitter.

So there you have it. Now you know the proper definition of pique versus peak, and should you ever forget which you want to use, look at whether you're dealing with a transitive or intransitive verb. With the exception of the nautical usage we covered above, you should NOT be using peak as a transitive verb. That should take care of using peak when what you want to use is pique.
And of course, please don't use peek when you mean to use either of the other two. Just don't.
If I ever see any of you write "It peaked my interest", I will call you on it. I might have a temper tantrum about it first, but then I'll call you on it.

That's one of my grammar pet peeves. What are yours?

14 January 2012

A Writer's Guide to Successful Blogging, Part 4

Remember this series? Thought it was time for another installation. If you missed the previous posts, it's not too late to catch up. So far we've discussed the overall theme or subject of your blog, time management tips from Dean C. Rich, and the important detail of live links.

Today we'll be talking about some important things all writers need on their blogs (besides blog posts, obviously).

Subscription options

Note I said optionS, plural. Occasionally I'll come across a Blogger blog where the only option to subscribe is to follow with Google Friend Connect. That's okay, but it's not enough. I follow that way, but to be honest, I rarely look at my blog list when I sign into Blogger. I sign in to post on my own blogs, then I log out. I like to subscribe to posts via email, and also occasionally using feeds. Every reader is different, so you want to make sure you have plenty of options for each of them.
  • Google Friend Connect (for Blogger blogs)
  • RSS, Atom, or other feed services (in Blogger, go to Layout, click add a Gadget in whichever sidebar/area you want it to appear, and then select Subscription Links)
  • Email - in Blogger, this uses FeedBurner to deliver your posts via email to subscribers (follow the same instructions as above, but select the Follow by Email option)

You should absolutely have some sort of contact info on your blog. You can put in on a separate page/tab, or you can add it right on your homepage (see mine? top left corner). At the very least, this offers readers a chance to send you a "love your blog!" email if they so desire. But think of this: have you ever had trouble commenting on someone else's blog? I have. Blogger especially has a tendency to be picky about comments. One of my readers who couldn't comment on my blog dropped me an email to let me know she appreciated one of my posts.

What if someone stumbles across your blog and wants to talk to you about a guest blogging opportunity? Or what if an agent/editor/someone who you'd just die if you missed the opportunity to hear from wants to get in touch with you? You never know when someone will need to get in touch with you through some method a little less public than a blog comment, so go ahead and put up your email address.

Privacy concerns? Of course, that's natural. You can set up an alternate email address specifically for your blog, then connect it to your regular email so you can check both at the same time. Or if you use Hotmail, like I do, you can set up an email alias - it's not a separate email account, just an alternate address for my existing account. This way I don't have to worry about checking a separate account.

One tip: to avoid as much spambot mail as possible, put your email up as such: YourEmail[AT]provider[DOT]com or some other way that disguises the fact that it's an email address to anything but a human reader. I didn't do this at first, and after the tenth or so email about getting my degree or ordering high quality replicas of whatever, I changed it.

Social Media buttons/widgets

Do you tweet? Have a Facebook fan page?  Belong to some other social site you'd like your readers to know about? Check with each site and/or your blog host to see if there is a button or widget you can add to your site that will direct your blog readers to those locations. Twitter, for example, offers a few different options. You can have a simple button, or you can have a widget that displays your most recent tweets.

Remember, it's all about making it easy for your readers to keep up with where you are and what you're saying.

Post sharing options

This seems like a no-brainer, but I've seen plenty of blogs that don't have this. If someone likes your post enough to share it on Facebook, don't make them open a new tab/window, sign in, copy/paste the link into their status and hit send. If they're in a hurry, they might not share at all. With share buttons, it takes a fraction of the time to post a link to FB, Twitter, or any other number of sites.

In Blogger, you can access this by going to your layout, then clicking edit in the box where your blog posts go. Check the box for "show share buttons" and you're all set!

"My Writing" section

If you're published, have a dedicated place on your blog to show off your work. If you have books for sale, you can put the covers and links in your sidebar. You can have a separate page or tab that lists links to anything you have published or available for purchase.

If you're NOT published, don't worry. If you feel so inclined, post a few paragraphs as a sample, or include blurbs for what you're currently writing or querying to agents. You can also not do this. It's up to you.

All of these features will help your readers find and share your content with ease. There is one last thing I want to mention, and that's comment moderation options. Everyone has their own take on this, and reasons for why they do what they do, but here's my two cents:

I don't have comment moderation, I don't use captcha authentication, and I do allow anonymous comments. I want my blog to be a dialogue. Why would I put up any barriers for people who've taken the time to read and then leave a comment? You might get a spam comment now and then, but they're easily deleted (I haven't had one in quite some time. Blogger's new spam filter is pretty good about catching them). I don't moderate comments partially because I don't want the hassle of having to approve them all, but mostly because I kind of hate when other people use it. I hate not knowing if there are additional comments before mine that I'm not seeing because they haven't been approved yet. Those comments might say something interesting that I'd also like to respond to. I also like to keep up with the conversation on a post I take time to comment on, so I'll click the box to subscribe to follow-up comments. If there are four comments in the queue before mine, I'm pretty sure I don't get notifications for those, so I won't know to come back and check the discussion unless someone comments after me.

That's my opinion on the issue. You'll do with the comments what you think makes sense for you. But as for the other things, I hope to see all those features next time I visit your blogs, if they aren't there already.

Are there any other features you think are must-haves for writers who blog?

02 January 2012

Yes, I am a Judgmental Bitch

Whoa, what? Where'd that come from, you ask? Well, New Year, New Me! Okay, not exactly. And I'm not exactly a judgmental bitch... not all the time, at least. This post has been brewing in my head for some time now, and I figured what better way to open the new year than with a bit of spunk? The post title is fair warning to you all: I'm not about to be nice, and you might disagree with me, but I don't care.

Let's talk about erotica, shall we? A year and a half ago I first wrote my little Erotica Writer's Manifesto. It was partially serious, and partially facetious. One line in particular is especially important to me:  

I will not write trash.

I feel the need to reiterate this, and expand upon it. I know what some of you may be thinking: How do you define trash? One man's trash is another man's treasure. Or in the case of erotica, one person's squick may be another person's kink. I get that, I do. I like a good spanking scene now and then (as you can probably tell from my new short story), but that might totally turn off other people. That's fine. But for me, there is a line.

I joined a group of erotica writers late last year, excited to be in a group of like-minded people who write the same sort of stories I write. I love Agent Query Connect, and they aren't prudes by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought a forum specifically for erotica writers would be perfect for me. Well, I didn't stay long. I poked around for a couple weeks, interacted a bit, but then I deleted my account. I couldn't get anything more there than I do from AQC and my network of writing friends on Facebook and Twitter. That, and I didn't like some of the conversation taking place there.

I'll bring this back around to the issue of writing "trash" in a second, just bear with me here. Anyone who knows me in real life, or who's interacted with me frequently enough in any online forum, Twitter, etc. knows I'm generally very middle-of-the-road, don't like taking "sides", hesitate to make any sort of value or judgment statement whatsoever (because I don't want to offend anyone, and don't want to have to retract a statement later if I change my mind and decide I'm wrong). I have to feel pretty strongly to draw any sort of line in the sand. But here I am, drawing one.

There's a particular type of erotica that is immensely popular and sells very well. I happen to find it slightly morally repugnant. I won't buy it. And if it's not something I'd buy to read myself, I won't write it, either. The question came up on this other forum about jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, and publishing these types of stories because they're a hot seller. Some said sure, it's a little squicky but I write them and they make me good money. Some said no, I wouldn't do it. There was plenty of "don't do it if it's not right for you" but also plenty of "set aside your own objections and go for it! It's a hot seller! You can do it!" I made a comment similar to what I just said above: I wouldn't read it, and find the subject matter morally questionable, and therefore you won't catch me writing it to make a few bucks. Someone came back with a gentle nudge to tell me I might not want to offend my fellow writers who are trying to make a living, just because they chose to do it writing stories that aren't necessarily what I would write.

Well, whatever. That pissed me off a bit, I'll admit. It made me laugh a little bit, too. I thought it was interesting that someone chose to single me out for my opinion, but not any of the people encouraging others to swallow their own objections and drink the Kool-Aid. But that's all really beside the point.

The point is this: I won't write trash, and I consider those types of stories to be trash. I've hesitated to name the particular theme in case... well, I guess I'm still worried about offending any of my potential readers (old habits die hard) but here it is: pseudo-incest stories. The ones with step-parent/step-child sex, or step-siblings, etc. Daddy/daughter stuff especially. (I'm sure there are other subsets and themes that I disagree with, but this is the biggest.) You wouldn't believe how well they sell. It makes me shudder.

But the fact that these stories are popular isn't the only thing that astounds me. The seemingly nonchalant attitude of some of the writers about the moral "grey area" they inhabit with such writing was pretty stunning. There are discussions among writers about how well some of these different stories sell, how to "get over it" and write this type of story ("it" being your own mental blocks/objections), how to toe the line of legality, etc. Of course the arguments against me go something like this: You don't assume a murder mystery author is encouraging murder, do you? You don't think an author who writes about serial rapists or baby-killers is endorsing that behavior, do you? No, of course I don't. But this is different. I'm sorry, but it just is. 

That's what I would qualify as trash. Subject matter that is morally reprehensible. And authors who pander to that market regardless. And without even bothering to write a good story. Because let me tell you, I followed the Amazon links and read some free samples, and in 99.9% of the cases, I found the writing quality to be sorely lacking.

The writing quality may even be what pisses me off the most. I have a message for these types of authors (and let me make it painfully clear, I am NOT referring to any and every member of that online forum I joined and then left, because they do not all fall into this category. I'm directing this toward any writer, anywhere, who writes these types of trashy storylines, especially if they also write trashily. No, trashily is probably not a word, but it fits here anyway.) Here's what I have to say:

You're giving erotica a bad name. You're the reason that people keep telling me I should use a pseudonym if I want to publish erotica. You're flooding the market with these books that I not only find disgusting, but that are also poorly written. Erotica can be so much more than just trashy sex. I'm tired of your predictable characterizations and plots. It makes me sick that many of these pseudo-incest stories feature a father figure who "teaches" the young woman about her sexuality. Or a mother figure who is a frigid bitch, leaving it up to the daughter to give the step-father the sexual attention he craves. I mean, seriously? WTF? Can't you at least think of something a little more imaginative? And hey, maybe a little less misogynistic?

Jump on the trashy bandwagon if you want, but you won't find me there. Not now. Not ever. You'll see all of my erotica published as J. Lea Lopez because I like what I write, and even if I touch on subjects or situations that some people may be uncomfortable with, I'll do it responsibly, and with some class. And talent. If I'm not willing to put my name on it, I'm not going to write it at all.